There are always going to be differing opinions on how to handle prospects. Some people wanted Alex Galchenyuk sent back to the Sarnia Sting no matter what, simply as a business decision. Some people felt that bringing him up not would be "rushing" him.
While I don't agree with either of those statements, there is validity to one of them, and that's the business decision. After playing 6 games for the Montreal Canadiens, one year of Galchenyuk's entry level contract will be gone. We all knew this was coming, but it does mean that we get one less year of RFA eligibility out of Alex, and we have to re-sign him one year earlier.
With the salary cap, this means that Galchenyuk gets paid more, sooner. He also becomes an unrestricted free agent sooner, a scary proposition. Is it worth it?
There are two factors to consider when thinking about this, whether Galchenyuk is NHL ready, and how his next contract effects the cap.
Is Galchenyuk NHL ready?
Luckily, we have Olivier Bouchard tracking some important stats for us game by game, so we can see how Galchenyuk has performed in his first 6 games in great detail.
What we'll be looking at here is usage at even strength, scoring chances for and against, Corsi as a proxy for possession for and against, and zone entries for and against. Zone entries (ZE) are a new thing for this blog, but they are very revealing to see if a line is penetrating the offensive zone, or preventing their opponents from doing the same.
|Game||ES TOI||Scoring Chances (+)||Scoring Chances (-)||Corsi (+)||Corsi (-)||ZE (+)||ZE (-)|
To add a bit of context, Galchenyuk's worst game was his first one, where he played ~70% of the time with Tomas Plekanec against the Maple Leafs' top players. Clearly as an 18 year old, he isn't ready for that. Since then, Galchenyuk has been on a line with Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Prust, and given extremely favourable zone starts. With that said, he hasn't been sheltered as far as competition goes.
After a rough first game, Galchenyuk spent 3 games with even scoring chances, before going 11-3 in the last two games. It took a little bit longer for his possession to catch up, where he was underwater until game 5, but he's now above water there too. Where Galchenyuk has perhaps been most impressive are his zone entries, where he hasn't been negative in a single game. This is especially interesting because he's received 63.6% offensive zone starts, so from there, logically, it should be his opponents who are more likely to gain the zone more often, but it's not the case.
Galchenyuk has been the recipient of some nice luck to begin the season as well, with a 16.13% on-ice shooting percentage in the first 6 games, 20th in the NHL so far. That number typically settles at about half that number, although with managed minutes he could end up with a similar number to what David Desharnais produced last year (around 10%). Either way, Galchenyuk will have to continue to improve his possession skills to keep up his current rate of even strength production.
All of this to say, Alex Galchenyuk is obviously an NHL player at the age of 18. He may not be a tough minutes player yet, but he doesn't need to be. I firmly believe that Galchenyuk will benefit greatly from this shortened NHL season, it has become the ideal situation for him due to the lockout allowing him to get up to speed playing junior hockey. Where this is really going to pay off is next season. At 19 years old, Galchenyuk will have just over half a year of NHL experience on his belt, and perhaps be ready to truly break out. He's already outperforming Tyler Seguin at the same age, which is both surprising and encouraging.
Salary cap implications
Where this move gets a little risky is on the salary cap in 2015-16. 3 years from now the Canadiens have just 7 players signed to contracts, Carey Price, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, Josh Gorges, Rene Bourque, Brandon Prust, and Travis Moen.
The Habs have $27,583,333 committed against the cap to those 7 players, but we have no idea what the cap will be. The following year, Bourque, Plekanec, Prust, and Moen all come off the books. By then I'm sure that P.K. Subban will be signed to a long term deal as well, but we just don't know.
There is a ridiculous amount of flexibility there, which to me, makes the salary cap an irrelevant notion at this point. P.K. Subban's recently signed contract also pushes forward the idea that Galchenyuk may get a bridge contract, which could mean we don't need to worry until 2017. At that point, it becomes a "who cares?" situation.
Galchenyuk is good enough to make a difference now, he may as well play. I can't see a scenario where the organization is bit by regret on this one.